When the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 and Wednesday in the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, there will be key actors to watch during arguments. Here is a breakdown of the main players in the legal drama:
A former U.S. solicitor general during President George W. Bush’s administration, Olson will argue on behalf of two same-sex couples who have sued to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. A leading conservative and Republican who has become a vocal advocate for gay marriage, Olson is not only leading the arguments because of his vast experience arguing at the high court but also because his political pedigree won’t go unnoticed among justices such as Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Cooper, a former top Justice Department official during the Reagan administration who runs in the same conservative Beltway legal circles as Olson, will argue for ProtectMarriage.com, backers of Proposition 8. Cooper has had bumpy rides arguing in the lower courts but no doubt is hoping he’ll get a more receptive audience from the Supreme Court’s conservative wing.
The current U.S. Solicitor General, Verrilli will be President Barack Obama’s voice in the Supreme Court in both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s arguments, providing the administration’s position that the California and federal gay marriage bans are unconstitutional. Solicitor General since 2011, Verrilli can only hope he gets better reviews than he did last year in arguments defending the president’s health care law, when he was panned for his performance even though the court later ruled on his side.
Another former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, Clement will argue in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, representing House Republicans who are defending the law now that the Obama administration considers it unconstitutional. Clement squared off against Verrilli in the health care cases, representing states that challenged the law.
Kaplan will carry the lowest profile of the lawyers arguing the cases, but will no doubt play a crucial role, representing Edith Windsor, the New York woman whose denial of estate benefits from her spouse prompted a federal appeals court to find the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
Justice Anthony Kennedy
From the beginning of the legal battle over gay marriage, Kennedy has been considered the must-have vote for the Supreme Court to side with same-sex couples. His every word will be scrutinized during arguments, both because he’s at the court’s center and because he penned the court’s two most recent decisions in favor of gay rights.
Chief Justice John Roberts
A staunch conservative, Roberts generally is considered a skeptical vote on gay marriage. But ever since he formed the majority in last year’s decision upholding the president’s health care law, riling conservatives, it has prompted speculation he could be unpredictable on same-sex marriage. So his tea leaves will be watched, as well.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.